Ruach members enjoy a meal together. Photo courtesy of Abigail Landesman.

By Derek Ohringer
For Mitzpeh

Ruach, the Reform Judaism student group at this university’s Hillel, is focusing on racism in America during their Social Justice Series by learning about, discussing and planning ways to act on racial injustice.

The idea started this summer when Abigail Landesman, a junior government and politics and theater major, wanted to address racial issues in the United States, especially in the Jewish community. She thought these issues were often overlooked. 

Landesman had previously organized an education and action club for middle schoolers at her temple. She asked herself, “How can I adapt this for college students?” and decided to start the Social Justice Series. 

She is Ruach’s Social Justice Chair, so she was able to quickly reach out to the coordinator Ariel Goldstein for approval.

Landesman then invited a friend of hers, Assie Bantama, a senior communications major, to help her lead the meetings. Landesman said she felt that it was important to include additional racial representation to provide better detail about experiences. These two friends have been working together to develop the plans for these meetings.

“It has been interesting drawing from both her experience and my experience and understanding how she sees the world and how I see the world,” Bantama said of working with Landesman. “The topic of racial justice may be daunting but we want others to talk about this because Black people and people of color can not solve the issues, it’s an everybody problem.”

The group has so far discussed different types of cultural and structural violence in Jewish history that relate to modern racial issues. In future meetings, Landesman hopes to compare this to the way that structural racism is built into American systems and explain that white Jews still have privilege that people of color do not despite issues that their community face.

“My goal is to talk about race, but contextualize it in a Jewish lens,” Landesman said. 

A significant part of the sessions involves members discussing their own experiences and views. Landesman and Bantama work to educate people at the meetings while allowing the group to talk about their thoughts.

Rebecca Shankman, a senior sociology and criminology major, has attended both of the sessions that the Social Justice Series has hosted so far. While her fields of study give her familiarity with the topic, she is still glad that she is able to hear from others who she can relate to and listen to their perspectives.

“I think it has always been a part of my Judaism to look at the world around me and try to understand what equitable living would look like,” said Shankman. “I think that looking at these things from a Jewish lens with inclusion and a history of persecution is really important.”

Shankman believes that while learning about racial issues is crucial, it is also important to put those ideas into action.

“While we as Jews have a history of experiencing things like this, we also have a role in making sure other people don’t have to go through what we have,” Shankman said.

The group is currently meeting every third Monday and will continue for the foreseeable future.

With roughly ten participants at these sessions, members are able to share, listen and have discussions while learning new things about social justice issues and how they relate to Judaism.


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